Forming a stepfamily requires all members to merge,
integrate, and stabilize up to
multi-generational biofamilies over many
years. Typical stepfamily members aren't prepared for the
significant confusion, frustration, and conflict this merger causes. This is
specially true for co-parents, who have
low-nurturance childhoods and are burdened with related psychological
Even if co-parents seek help
on forming and implementing a multi-year biofamily
plan, they rarely find informed lay or professional supporters to
Though every client family is unique, five core
Project-9 objectives with typical courting and committed stepfamily clients are:
affirm and validate their
as a normal multi-home stepfamily;
alert client adults to the complexity,
and duration of their biofamily-merger project;
overview typical stepfamily
developmental phases and three possible
adults need to intentionally merge and stabilize among all
their family members,
(a) facilitate family adults learning how to
effectively spot and resolve inevitable merger
conflicts, and relationship
(b) encourage them to teach
other family members how to do this; and...
help client adults see how their complex
merger project relates to their other
concurrent long-term stepfamily-building
Progress toward these 9 goals requires
and client-adults to...
progress at reducing any false-self
by their true Selves
learning and using
basics and skills
fully accept (a) their
as a normal multi-home stepfamily, and (b) what that identity
- e.g. understanding how the [wounds + unawareness]
and the five related
apply to their stepfamily, and what to do about that
(a) evolve a healthy
together, and use it to (b) assess family kids and adults for
and to (c) facilitate appropriate mourning together
evolve a clear, consensual long-term
for their stepfamily, and negotiate which family members are
in order to achieve that mission
and client adults need to
(a) put their personal
and wholistic health first, their primary relationships second, and
all else third, except in emergencies; and (b) help dependent kids
and supporters understand the long-term value of this priority
The best time to alert client co-parents and supporters to the value of a knowledgeable long-term
merger plan is during courtship.
The next best time is when the client family has stabilized any crises
and is open to learn.
Basic Project-9 Interventions
Select and prioritize the interventions below based on
appropriate assessments over several
sessions. Intervene proactively, because typical clients won't ask for merger guidance as
part of their presenting problems. Linked numerals in the table
below lead to more detail on each intervention.
co-parent agreement on who comprises their extended
(multi-generational) stepfamily. Option
- refresh clients on the Project-3 concept of a family
(diagram), and ask them to review
or create theirs.
the complex process of merging 16 aspects of three or more co-parents'
multi-gener-ational biofamilies over many years.
(a) family nurturance levels, and (b) typical stepfamily developmental phases and tasks, and tailor
these to fit the client. Option - show clients how
stepfamily development com-pares to typical intact-biofamily
9-4) Describe, justify,
and illustrate the elements and benefits of a consensual stepfamily merger
plan. Then discuss who's responsible for (a) ma-king and (b)
implementing th clients' plan, and (c) what might hinder them in this.
clients develop big-picture awareness of how merging their
families interacts with all 10 other concurrent Projects (not
Project 7) a day at a time.
9-6) Explain, illustrate,
and discuss the concept of values conflicts, and relate this to
the merger plan. Facilitate clients evolving a strategy to avoid
or resolve these conflicts.
9-7) Explain, illustrate,
and discuss the concept of stepfamily loyalty conflicts, and
relate this to the merger plan. Facilitate clients evolving a
strategy to avoid or resolve these conflicts.
9-8) Explain, illustrate,
and discuss the concept of relationship triangles, and relate
this to the merger plan. Facilitate clients evolving a strategy
to avoid or resolve these triangles.
Invite discussion of
how client adults can teach these concepts to other family
members - specially kids.
9-10) Option -
work with clients to identify where their stepfamily is on their
merger process, whe-ther there are any significant
hindrances, and how they're trying to reduce them.
Do these interventions after acknowledging clients' presenting problems,
and stabilizing any crises. The
symbol below indicates a printable handout is available here to help clients
understand the concept and teach it to others.
Get co-parental agreement on who comprises their full
Why? Typical adults and stepkids are conflicted and/or unclear on
to their stepfamily - i.e. who's needs and opinions merit full inclusion
in family decisions and activities. if not corrected, this can
significantly hinder biofamily-merger progress.
client-adults' genuine (vs. superficial) acceptance of their
& as appropriate. If they'/re resistant or
ambivalent, shift to Project-3 interventions.
Ask client adults to make a complete
& showing all adults and
kids who they feel comprise their multi-generational
stepfamily. If any adult omits one or more stepchild's bioparent (ex
mates) and/or their relatives, shift focus to Lesson 7 interventions, and seek agreement to include all those
Co-parent "resistance" to including the needs, opinions, and
influence of any co-parenting ex-mate or their relatives probably indicates...
in one or more co-parents;
possible unwise courtship-commitment
co-parental unawareness and/or
rejection of stepfamily identity, norms, and/or realities ;
(broken bonds) (Lesson 3); and/or...
inevitable need to merge three or
more co-parents' multi-generational families over many years,
Why? Typical co-parents are unaware of the scope and
complexity of the merger process they and their kids and relatives must
negotiate, starting in courtship. This promotes significant
confusion, conflict, antagonisms, frustrations, and stress in and
between related homes - specially if there are
between ex mates. This is specially true for
(GWCs) who lack effective communication
and discuss the
& that new-stepfamily members
must combine and stabilize over many years, starting in serious
and/or introduce the concepts of
and explain why these are
Ask clients their experience so
far with each of these stressors, and whether they feel they have an
effective strategy to avoid and resolve each of them. Expect adults
to say "No," and/or discount the need for such strategies. See
interventions 6, 7, and 8 below.
Overview (a) family
and (b) typical stepfamily developmental
and tailor these to fit the client. Expect most client adults
to have distorted or no awareness of these concepts and their relevance
to them and their descendents. Implication: typical client adults
won't ask for this information.
Why? Typical co-parents are only vaguely aware of (a)
why their family exists, and (b) how biofamilies and stepfamilies
develop across the years. Understand the concept of "family nurturance"
levels gives clients a frame of reference and a practical way to guide
Summarizing their family's developmental phases can help clients (a) form
realistic expectations about their family's evolution, (b) accept the
inevitability of systemic
and (c) invite them to identify and celebrate their progress along the way.
Assess client-adults' awareness of
normal personal & and
stepfamily & developmental phases,
and explain why such awareness is useful.
and/or correct information on these phases as appropriate, and
explain and discuss how this
knowledge relates to the long-term effectiveness of their stepfamily
mission and merger
typical (step)child developmental
& and adjustment
& needs and (b)
merger tasks &, and
tailor them to fit the client's unique situation.
justify, and illustrate the elements and benefits of an
informed, consensual stepfamily
Why? Adults' building a multi-story house
by hand together is an apt metaphor for the complex multi-task process
of developing a successful stepfamily across many years. Most clients
will intuitively agree that house-building requires a
knowledgeable plan to define, prioritize, and monitor different tasks
and phases of the building process. Another useful metaphor is to ask
the client adults if they would take all their adults and kids on an
open-ocean voyage with no charts, compass, provisions, or plan.
Review the concepts of
& and a stepfamily
(Project 6), and ask clients' reactions
to these in their situation;
client adults to describe and illustrate what constitutes an effective plan
- e.g. one which results in family adults and kids cooperatively
family-adjustment (merger) needs in mutually-acceptable ways over time.
Option - ask adults if they had a meaningful developmental plan for their
prior family/s, and what might have happened if they did.
what's required to promote effective merger planning
in and among their related homes - e.g. adults'
by their true Selves + a
+ accurate stepfamily knowledge + adult awareness and
+ shared effective
+ willingness to negotiate and compromise + patience, humor, and
client discussion and agreement on (a) which of their family adults are
making an effective stepfamily-merger plan, and (b) how to
effectively resolve significant
implementing their plan as
Help clients develop
of how patiently merging their biofamilies relates to these common
in their unique situation. Review the [wounds + unawareness] cycle & and its probable long-term impacts on
them and their descendents as needed.
Why? To optimize teamwork as they merge their biofamilies over time,
client adults must want to help each other keep clear and focused
their long-term family mission, common priorities, and
current merger tasks; and to...
other maintain personal, household, and family balances
Odds are best for achieving this if the adults are each
guided by their
This is uncommon in our culture.
To do this, adults need a clear overall framework of the concurrent
stepfamily-building tasks they're working on together, and why they need to stay aware in the present, and
intentionally balanced. The (common) alternative is no informed,
coherent merger plan, minimal adult cooperation, reacting to stres-ses,
instead of avoiding them, and ongoing conflicts, confusions, and
stresses for adults and kids. This risks long-term re/marital and
stepfamily decay, creating a low-nurturance stepfamily, and
unintentionally passing the [wounds + unawareness] cycle on to the next
Re-assess the participating and absent client-family adults
for awareness of recent true or false-self dominance and wounds.
If too many adults seem ruled by false selves too often, settle on
planting seeds here, rather than expecting adults' motivation and
cooperation with these interventions.
Review (or create) a
multi-generational stepfamily genogram
and seek client agreement on who
to their stepfamily. If there's significant disagreement over this,
shift to Project-3 interventions.
Review the [wounds + unawareness]
the five common stepfamily
and the 7 self-improvement
and tailor these to fit the client's stepfamily situation as
Review the three common
outcomes, and relate adult awareness of all their Lessons to
successful long-term stepfamily-building outcomes.
Ask participating clients to
identify and discuss what - if anything - might prevent them from
maintaining a big-picture view of their set of dynamic
family-development tasks, and how merging-biofamilies fits into
their big picture.
Options - (a) review and discuss
the adults' current life-priorities, and which dominate their
stepfamily's relationships and development. (b) Explain and
and (b) invite client adults to diagram the current structure of
their multi-home stepfamily. Then discuss how this structure affects
their awareness of stepfamily-building merger and other Projects,
and keeping their balances.
Explain, illustrate, and discuss the
and relate it to the client's merger plan and progress.
Why? My clinical experience since 1981 is that (a) disagreements over values (personal and family
preferences, standards, and beliefs) are universal and often
significantly stressful; and (b)
few adults (like you?) know how to avoid and resolve values
conflicts effectively. This is partly true because they're unaware of the
effective-communication basics and skills in
Average divorcing families stepfamilies are specially likely to have frequent major values
conflicts in and between their related homes, and not know how to
resolve them. Implication: many
stepkids will probably leave home without an effective
strategy to spot and resolve significant values conflicts with other
Propose that all biofamily
mergers generate major values and loyalty conflicts and associated
relationship triangles for years, so co-parents need to understand
them and evolve a practical strategy to spot, discuss, and resolve
each of them.
Invite client adults to describe
and illustrate their definition of a value, and say whether
some values are "better" than others. Then invite them to affirm
that all human relationships regularly encounter significant
differences over values (e.g. I'm a vegetarian, you're a beefaholic,
or "I'm Lutheran, and you're Jewish.")
Propose that values are inherently not good or bad or right
or wrong - they're just different. Implication
- trying to force or persuade someone to agree with or adopt your
("superior, proper, or better") values is inherently disrespectful
and conflictual, and usually stresses the relationship.
Review the vital difference between win-win
and fighting, arguing, debating, lecturing, explaining, withdrawing,
or repressing. Encourage clients to help each other choose
the former in all disagreements - and to teach this to their kids.
Option - ask clients to identify which of these common
to win-win (mutually-respectful) problem-solving their family
members usually use, and what usually results - i.e. who usually
gets their main
met, if anyone?
Ask client adults to...
identify one or more recent values
conflicts among their stepfamily members, and describe...
(a) how the members usually try to
resolve their differences and (b) what usually
ask if this process strengthens or
weakens their stepfamily, over time.
(a) Explain and (b) role-play an
effective resolution to this conflict using appropriate Lesson-2
with self and inter-family respect and harmony as a goal.
series of articles
for perspective and a framework for effective resolution of typical
Option - ask each adult
client to describe without judgment (a) whether their main childhood
caregivers could describe a "values conflict," and (b) how they
tried to resolve such family conflicts.
(a) See if clients understand and
accept this framework, and if so, (b) role-play using it with
several other recent or current values conflicts. C/Overt
resistance to using (vs. agreeing to use) this resolution strategy
usually indicates false-self dominance in one or more client adults.
Encourage client adults to
objectively teach other family members
and supporters about values conflicts,
evolve a common language to negotiate
them (e.g. "Hey, Franco, we have another values conflict here...")
help each other adopt their version of
this resolution strategy. Then follow up to see if they do these
As the work progresses, stay
alert to (a) repeat these intervention-steps as appropriate, and (b)
affirm client resolution successes.
with detail on four more basic Project-9 interventions using this